Sunday, November 20, 2005

Time, not "Time" Magazine, is on Mark Sanford's side

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is a leader unlike any in America today, and that has liberals and their spokespeople worried.

So worried, in fact, that one of the most prominent liberal outlets, “Time” magazine, recently named him one of the nation’s worst governors. It’s easy to see why. Sanford is everything folks like the liberal editors of “Time” love to hate.

For one thing, he is what in an earlier age would often be called “a man of many parts,” someone whose accomplishments suggest both native ability, and hard work. He excelled in athletics and academics as a young man, made a fortune as an investment banker, and was elected to Congress in the pivotal “Republican Revolution” year of 1994, a year made famous by the “Contract With America,” which promised a smaller, more accountable federal government.

Sanford showed his own fiscal restraint – and a shrewd understanding of the power of symbolic action -- by sleeping in his Washington office and showering in the congressional members’ locker room. But the most significant symbol of his tenure in Congress was the fact that he left after only six years. When he ran for Congress the first time, he said he would serve only three terms. Nobody much believed him. But Sanford stunned everyone by honoring his word, and not just to run for something else, but to return home to his 3,000-acre farm near Beaufort and enjoy his growing family – which now included four young boys.

Then Sanford did something that doesn’t get mentioned much in his official biographies. He joined the military. At age 44, a time when many career military personnel are retiring, he joined the Air Force Reserves. I sat with him in his office in the Columbia Statehouse in 2003 and asked him, as respectfully as I could, “What in the world were you thinking?” He laughed and said, “My wife asked me that, too.” But then he got serious. As a member of the International Relations Committee, he often traveled with military escorts. “Often,” Sanford said, “I would end up on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, or with troops in Germany, and I just became profoundly impressed with the United States military as a leadership organization.” Sanford also said he came to believe that we had “disconnected the rights that go with being an American from [the] responsibilities that go with being an American.” He said he wanted his four boys to know they had a responsibility to serve, and he wanted to lead his boys with actions, not just words.

Sanford's penchant for striking just the right chord with words, image, and action is a hallmark of his leadership style: One of his first official acts as governor was to go to Orangeburg, S.C., and apologize to a mostly black audience for the infamous Orangeburg Massacre, a nasty incident of racial hatred that had long been a blight on the state’s history.

When he wanted to cut state spending, he exercised the line-item veto more than 100 times on the state budget. But the legislature, controlled by his own party, overrode most of his vetoes, so Sanford brought two pigs into the Rotunda of the Capitol to make the point that there was too much pork in the budget. House Speaker David Wilkins called the pig stunt “childish” and “insulting,” and the state’s media said it proved that Sanford couldn’t even get along with his own party.

Ultimately, though, Sanford had the last squeal. He managed to keep spending growth to 1 percent, cut the state’s budget deficit by more than 90 percent, and got most of his revolutionary 16-point reform package passed. Sanford was named “most conservative” governor in American by the American Conservative Union. The Wilkins-led House of Representatives, on the other hand, was named “Porker of the Month” in June 2004 by Citizens Against Government Waste.

Now, there is an informal campaign to draft Sanford to run for president in 2008. Lots of conservative bloggers are calling him a “dream candidate,” someone who has the support of pro-lifers, the NRA, and libertarians. He told me as recently as this month that he’s going to run for governor again, not president. And, as we have already established, Sanford has a record of being as good as his word. So for now I believe him.

What I also believe is that he would make a great president. I hope he runs, and I hope he wins. For Mark Sanford, not yet 50 years of age and with tenures as Congressman and governor already under his belt, may not have “Time” on his side. But there are many of us who believe that he certainly has time on his side.

And for a guy this good, we’re willing to wait.

Warren Smith is the publisher of The Charlotte World. He can be reached at


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